One of the most sought-after inshore gamefish in the world is the tarpon–known also as the silver king or sabalo. Since the early 1800’s, legendary anglers from Hemmingway, Flip Pallot and Lefty Kreh have been casting everything from flies to live bait and plastics to catch these gamefish. The tarpon fishing here in Tampa Bay ranks as some of the best tarpon fishing in Florida along with Boca Grande, St. Augustine and the key of Islamorada.
There are lots of baits that you can use to catch tarpon, such as small pass crabs, live bait, cut bait, jigs and soft plastics. I personally like fishing with live pass crabs for tarpon. Make sure you hook the crab correctly. That is the difference between a catch and a loss. Hooking a crab in the body will kill it. Make sure to put the hook through the very edge of the crab between the brown edge and the white underside, and always keep it in the water. Buying crabs can be expensive and catching them takes quite a while. You can keep your crabs healthy and alive for days if you do it right. Always feed the crabs some cut bait to keep them healthy overnight. Dump any shrimp left in the live well when they die. They release a toxin that can kill your crabs.
Tarpon are opportunistic feeders. They will eat almost anything, if the time is right. Some of the go-to live baits are threadfin, sardines, mullet and menhaden. When selecting your tarpon rod, be sure that the rod has a strong backbone. It should have moderate give in the first 1/3 of the rod, then get stiffer. Braided line is highly recommended. Make sure to spool up your reels with a lot of it. Most pros use anywhere from 30 to 65-pound test. Tarpon have very abrasive mouths, so a good leader is a must. Pro’s use anywhere from 50 to 80-pound, with lighter leader in the day and heavier during the night. Using circle hooks for tarpon offers the best hook up ratio’s and it inflicts the least amount of damage to the fish.
Talking with Sid Dobrin of Inventive Fishing, he had some great tips for using artificial baits. One of his go-to lures is the Hogy Sand Eel, as they provide hard to beat imitation of the real thing. He also loves his Livetarget Fleeing Shrimp and the D.O.A. Baitbusters “they mimic mullet really well,” he said. Also, be mindful of your other anglers, if someone is following a school, get out of the way and let them stay on it–don’t be that guy. My advice is be prepared for anything and have everything. You can never have too much fishing tackle, can you?
Misty Wells Host of “Let’s Take It Outside” Radio show iHeart & Video series Tampa Bay Times Outdoors, Outdoor Pro, Writer & Adventure Guide. Founder of “A Reel Future” a non-profit organization devoted to knowledge, conservation & the passion of fishing to foster kids. www.mistywells.com